Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service drives efficient collaboration

Building a common platform for shared development of automated, efficient, reusable business processes

Published on 10-Oct-2013

"We’ve reduced the cost of managing sickness/absence by 95 percent – which means we’re saving thousands of pounds per year, as well as freeing up more time to spend on improving other services. And that’s just one example – we expect to see similar results from other new processes in the future." - Matthew Warren, Director of Resources, Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service

Customer:
Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service

Industry:
Government

Deployment country:
United Kingdom

Solution:
Business Process Management (BPM), Connectivity and Integration, Service Oriented Architecture

Overview

Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service is one of the UK’s most innovative and forward-looking fire services, and prides itself on providing excellent front-line services at one of the lowest costs per head of population in the country. Its 750 employees serve 820,000 people in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area, where it operates 28 fire stations and 37 fire engines. Its headquarters in Huntingdon house the central control room and the majority of the organisation’s support staff.

Business need:
Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service faces pressure on budgets, time and personnel, and looked for ways to share best practices and increase efficiency – potentially for all UK emergency services.

Solution:
In partnership with two other fire and rescue services (FRS), Cambridgeshire deployed a business process management and integration solution based on IBM® technologies – laying the foundations for a UK Fire Framework that will enable standardisation across the FRS community.

Benefits:
Process automation saves time and reduces costs: Cambridgeshire’s new sickness process boosts cost-efficiency by 95 percent. Shared standards can be adopted by multiple FRS organisations, and could help all UK emergency services to collaborate in the future. The Service Transformation & Efficiency Programme (STEP) will deliver ongoing, sustainable change across the FRS community.

Case Study

When emergencies happen, the ability to share information can become a matter of life or death. If fire and rescue services (FRS) can co-ordinate their efforts with each other and with police and ambulance services, they can respond faster and more effectively to protect the public and maintain safety.

For hard-pressed fire and rescue services, information-sharing and collaboration can also provide significant opportunities for increasing efficiency and reducing costs. If data is able to flow automatically through business processes, instead of remaining siloed in individual systems, there is less need for paperwork and staff can be redeployed to more valuable tasks. If systems and processes developed by one service can be shared and adopted by others, there is less need for IT departments to spend time and money duplicating each other’s work.

These considerations prompted Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service to redesign its entire approach to business process management around a more open and collaborative model. Working in partnership with two other fire services, and with support from IBM, the Cambridgeshire team has now built a platform that not only provides a sound basis for process automation, but also lays the foundation for a sustainable re-design of the FRS community.

Setting the scene
Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service is one of the UK’s most innovative and forward-looking fire services, and prides itself on providing excellent front-line services at one of the lowest costs per head of population in the country. Its 750 employees serve 820,000 people in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area, where it operates 28 fire stations and 37 fire engines. Its headquarters in Huntingdon house the central control room and the majority of the organisation’s support staff.

Henry Cressey, Chief Information Officer at Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue, comments: “In the current political and economic climate, all UK fire services are under pressure to reduce costs while maintaining the quality of their front-line services. We had to find ways to work smarter – and we realised that a more intelligent approach to IT would not only help us to increase efficiency now, but also to deliver ongoing savings in the years to come.”

Need for a simpler approach to integration
Cambridgeshire was using a wide range of IT systems – from the control system that handles emergency response calls, through fleet and equipment management systems, to finance, HR, and other administrative systems. In some cases, these systems had been integrated with each other using simple point-to-point interfaces – but the IT team realised that this approach was not sustainable over the long term.

“We saw that as the system landscape grew, the number of interfaces would have to grow too,” says Henry Cressey. “This would give us a complex and inflexible architecture, which would be expensive to maintain. We wanted to find a better way to integrate our systems, one that would make it easier to support the development of new, more automated business processes.”

Finding the right solution
Cambridgeshire approached several vendors, asking for proposals for a solution that would enable easy data exchange based on open standards, and that would simplify the development of business processes. The solution would support a new initiative known as the Service Transformation & Efficiency Programme (STEP), which aims to deliver transformation and efficiency across the FRS community by utilising a common UK Fire Framework for data management and exchange.

“IBM was the only vendor that really took on board our vision of an open standards-based solution,” says Henry Cressey. “We weren’t just looking for something that would fit our specific needs – we wanted a common platform that could potentially be adopted by other fire services, and even other organisations such as the police and ambulance service.”

Demonstrating value
IBM worked with Cambridgeshire and its partners to run a successful proof-of-concept project, which demonstrated the potential of its end-to-end solution and led to a decision to go ahead with a full deployment. The software stack includes IBM Integration Bus, which acts as a central hub for integration, IBM Blueworks Live™ for process design and documentation, and IBM Business Process Manager for process development and deployment. The solution runs on an IBM Power® 710 server, using the IBM AIX® operating system.

“Once we had the solution in place, that’s when the hard work really started,” says Henry Cressey. “We were learning about how to design IT services in a reusable way, and we needed to complete a huge amount of groundwork before we could really start moving things forward. There were no short-cuts.

“But although it took a lot of effort and dedication, we knew it would be worth it – and our executive team, led by the Chief Fire Officer, backed us one hundred percent of the way. They have been clear from the start that this is not an IT initiative – it is a business problem with technology aspects. And they have given us all the support we needed to get the job done.”

Maintaining momentum
To drive the project forwards, Cambridgeshire adopted an agile approach to process design. The kernel of each process was designed to be as small as possible to enable rapid development, and the IT team consulted the business on a regular basis to set priorities for changes and improvements.

For example, one of the top priorities for Cambridgeshire’s HR team was to optimise the processes that manage staff joining, moving or leaving the organisation. The IT team handled this as three separate elements – for starters, movers and leavers respectively. Each was developed in turn through an agile process with regular, constant improvements. Cambridgeshire used a “swivel-chair” approach – optimising the existing paper-based processes and making them as efficient as possible before moving on to the technical side.

“The most important (and in many ways most difficult) part of business process automation isn’t the technical implementation – it is the logical design of the process and the cultural change required to get it adopted by the business,” says Henry Cressey. “The IBM solution isn’t just an integration platform – it helps us with the design and deployment of the processes themselves, regardless of whether they are fully automated or based on swivel-chair principles.”

Developing and sharing processes
The three fire services involved in the initial phase of the STEP initiative began by each developing one process. Cambridgeshire focused on sickness/absence reporting, while the other two services handled incident reporting and equipment inspection. Once each process had been developed, it was shared with the other two services, so that it could be adopted as and when required.

Henry Cressey comments: “Our guiding principle is that there’s no advantage for public sector organisations in keeping their developments to themselves. When one of us has built something, it makes no sense for another to have to reinvent the wheel. This approach has now enabled us to develop a pool of processes that we can adopt or adapt to our requirements, with a minimum of effort and expense. And because they’re all built on open standards, we will be able to offer them to other fire services too – perhaps even delivering them as a service. This is how we’re bringing the concept of a UK Fire Framework to life.”

Advantages of streamlined operations
New processes are being developed and refined all the time, and are already benefiting firefighters and support staff across the three services. For example, Cambridgeshire’s new sickness/absence process gives on-call fire-fighters the ability to report their status via mobile phone – so if they are unwell or returning from absence, they no longer need to phone the HR department, notify their colleagues at the fire station, or fill in any additional paperwork. The whole complexity of the back-end process is hidden from them, so they can focus on more important matters.

“The new sickness/absence process is much simpler for both the end-users and the back-office support staff,” comments Henry Cressey. “And as we move forward with our integration landscape, we will convert almost all of the back-office processing into an automated workflow, so it will run practically without human intervention.”

Matthew Warren, Director of Resources at Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service, adds: “The efficiency gains have been very significant. We’ve reduced the cost of managing sickness/absence by 95 percent – which means we’re saving thousands of pounds per year, as well as freeing up more time to spend on improving other services. And that’s just one example – we expect to see similar results from other new processes in the future.”

Taking the next STEP
Looking at the early success of the STEP initiative as a whole, Henry Cressey concludes: “The desire to connect systems and exchange data between UK fire services is nothing new – and there have been many failed attempts in the past. But what we’re doing here is different because we aren’t taking a top-down, large-scale approach.

“We are using open standards to build a platform that meets the immediate needs of our three services, and that can also be adopted more widely as and when other services decide to come on board with us. And as we continue to build up a library of well designed, easy-to-deploy processes, we’re certain that the advantages of harnessing the UK Fire Framework will only increase as time goes on.”

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Hardware:
Power 710 AIX Solution Edition

Software:
IBM Blueworks Live, IBM Business Process Manager Advanced, IBM Integration Bus

Operating system:
AIX

Service:
Software Services for WebSphere - Lab Services

Legal Information

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